If your business has seen successful growth here in the US, it will most likely see success in other countries as well. Keep in mind; you may want to lock up those markets, before some other company does. I recently met a startup that had successfully tripled its revenues, largely from the results of a successful international expansion effort. I want to share this knowledge with you.
PICK YOUR MARKETS
There are 195 countries in the world, so where does one even start? Many US companies will take the path of least resistance, choosing other English speaking countries that are closest to home—like Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. While this is certainly a good strategy, the best method is to figure out which countries have the highest demand for your products. For example, if you are selling in the auto industry, perhaps big auto markets like Japan and Germany are the best place to start. Like anything, there will be an 80/20 logic here, where 80 percent of your international sales will come from 20 percent of your international markets. So, you should carefully prioritize your efforts.
PICK YOUR STRUCTURE
There are many ways to take your business global, with various levels of complexity and investment. You are going to need to decide between opening your own office overseas, leveraging key in-country distributors, and striking channel partnerships with key companies that have access to your target customers based on your goals and budgets. Also, the solutions you use in one country may not be the same solution you use in others, depending on the challenge in those markets. For example, in China, you will need a local company to partner with to help you navigate the local market. Where you can, set up your own efforts, either as a startup or via an acquisition of a local player, and they will likely exceed the results of piggybacking on others’ efforts.
LEARN THE LOCAL RULES
Every country has different “rules of engagement”. And, when you are getting started, it is often helpful to engage an international expansion consulting firm that can help you quickly learn all the local laws, regulations, accounting rules, business taxes, government taxes, employment vs. contractor rules, compensation rules, privacy rules, etc. Don’t underestimate the external risks from things like bribery payments, organized crime and other corruption in various countries, which you never want to partake in because you will risk going to jail. These varying rules can make the difference in deciding whether or not those markets make sense for you.
LOCALIZE YOUR PRODUCT
The product you use in the U.S., most likely will not be the same product you use in different countries. You will need to think about localizing your product or service for local languages, currencies, laws, etc. So, make sure your core product has been “internationalized” for each country before launching it those local markets.
LOCALIZE OUR FULFILLMENT
You will have to think through all the back office tasks for your business and how it will be different overseas. Who will be answering the phones (in the local language and during local business hours), how will products be warehoused and shipped, how will you collect payments from customers, how will you process payroll payments, into which bank accounts, who is going to train your local customers, whoare going to service local customers post sale, etc. Often times, it is like building a whole new fulfillment process from scratch.
LOCALIZE YOUR MARKETING EFFORTS
Every country has a unique culture of its own. And, you need to tailor your marketing creatives according to the messaging that will resonate best with the local market and will stand out against local competitors (who are most likely different companies than the ones you are competing with in the U.S.). And, if you are already successfully selling into global companies today, be sure to ask your US contacts at those companies for introductions to their counterparts in the countries you wish to enter.
Anyway, I hope you found this high level introduction to the topic helpful. Global expansion is a really tricky topic to cover as a short post, given all of its complexities by country, so make sure to surround yourself with expert consultants, lawyers and other global entrepreneurs that can help you.
Image Credit: CC by Wendy Cope